Two fatal accidents, a car crash in actor Olympia Dukakis' family, and the death of actor Gerald Hiken's grandfather after jumping from a moving train, are the physical catalysts of the Margaret Jenkins Dance Company's new work Breathe Normally, although the piece is less "about" those incidents than the capriciousness of fate and the fragmentary nature of memory. Less dance-y than last year's elastic, geography-inspired Fault, Breathe Normally is a multimedia theatrical work constructed from visual artist Tom Bonauro's wood-paneled sets, projections from Raised by Wolves photographer Jim Goldberg, author/performer Rinde Eckert's text, and composer Jay Cloidt's original score, overlaid with narration by Dukakis and Hiken.
Like memory itself, the piece is nonlinear. Dukakis recounts a horrible tragedy in which 10 members of her immigrant family (or was it eight?) piled into the car for a trip to the movies, singing and shouting as they drove off. Details of the trip and the crash are mutable, but after her uncle swerved around something, the unrelenting truth is that only two passengers survived. A second account of the crash, presumably narrated by Dukakis' mother, laps over the first, as dancers are reconfigured in their seats and a storm of shoes rains symbolically across the stage. Hiken, an ACT veteran, appears onstage during his narration, making a theatrical suggestion of his grandfather's death, which was a surprising end for a man who had leapt from moving trains countless times. His family is left to argue whether his death was an accident or a premeditated attempt to motivate familial change. The show opens at 8 p.m. Wednesday (and runs through Sept. 4) at Yerba Buena Gardens Theater, 700 Howard (at Third Street), S.F. Admission is $15-25; call 978-ARTS.
-- Heather Wisner